FEATURE | Osimhen? Rashford? How do PSG replace Kylian Mbappé?

“Sooner or later, we’ll have to get used to playing without Kylian Mbappé.” Luís Enrique’s mantra in recent weeks has justified a choice to drop Mbappé in Ligue 1 fixtures, replacing him definitively will become an obligation this summer.

Luis Enrique’s reasons for dropping Mbappé in Ligue 1, though criticised and derided by those who question the logic of wilfully depriving yourself of arguably the best player in the world, are well founded. Mbappé won’t be at Paris Saint-Germain next season. That much has been evident for some time. Whilst his departure is not official, he has already informed PSG president Nasser Al-Khelaifi that he will not stay at the Parc des Princes beyond the end of his contract, which expires at the end of the season.

With a third successive Ligue 1 title a nigh-on certainly for some time, and mathematically assured as of Sunday, why not plan for life post-Mbappé? In his absence, Luis Enrique has been able to experiment. Gonçalo Ramos, who has garnered significant criticism since his big-money move in the summer, has been the major benefactor. The Portuguese forward has nine in his last 11 in Ligue 1 having scored just three in his first 15.

Mbappé’s evolution makes question of replacement more difficult

Bradley Barcola, a free hit signing and one brought in with the medium to long-term future in mind, has also impressed. Whilst he does not yet possess – and may never possess – Mbappé’s sang-froid in front of goal, he certainly has the technique and dribbling ability to rival the France captain. He no longer resembles the “little lamb” that RMC Sport’s Daniel Rioli described him as back in November. 

Barcola is an image, in many ways, of what Mbappé was, but not what he has become. Whilst Mbappé still shows flashes of what he once was, he has evolved as a player, become more clinical, less involved, generally less flashy, but decisive in the moments that matter. 

Had PSG sought to replace Mbappé three or four years ago, the shortlist would have contained technically gifted, speedy wingers. Instead, PSG will likely be in the market for a clinical striker this summer. What PSG are primarily replacing are Mbappé’s goals.

Whoever inherits the role faces a daunting task. The former AS Monaco forward has netted 43 in all competitions in what is the most prolific season of his career. He is Les Parisiens’ all-time top scorer and the winner of the Ligue 1 Golden Boot in each of the last six seasons; in his final season, he is set to make that seven. So who, if anyone, can make up that shortfall?

Napoli’s Victor Osimhen is the name most closely linked with filling the void. The Nigerian is a prolific forward with a release clause thought to be worth around €120m. In a Napoli side that has struggled this season, following their Serie A triumph last season, Osimhen nonetheless has 17 goals in 30 appearances at club level this season. However, his individual performances mirror the general trend at Napoli – there has been a downturn of sorts and at a fee of over €100m, the Nigerian would represent a significant investment for Les Parisiens. 

PSG turning away from Rashford

Robert Lewandowski has previously been touted as an option and he is a striker that Mbappé himself was keen to see play at the Parc des Princes. As he revealed in a recent interview with Le Parisien, Lewandowski even discussed the prospect of joining PSG with Mbappé in Cannes. Ultimately, he joined Barcelona instead, and that Pivot Gang dynamic that Mbappé so desperately craved did not take form. Reportedly on the market this summer, Lewandowski represents a prolific and cheap option, however, his age profile is not necessarily in fitting with PSG’s new transfer strategy. 

Another name previously linked with a move to the Parc des Princes is Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. PSG president Al-Khelaifi has previously gone public with his admiration of the Englishman and the French club were particularly tempted by the prospect of luring him on a free transfer. However, he no longer necessarily represents the profile that PSG seek. With trust likely to be put in Barcola on the left, Mbappé’s replacement will likely occupy central spaces, which, as has been previously shown, would not put Rashford in the optimal position to thrive. There is also an argument that Rashford isn’t – and has never been – a prolific striker; this season, with just seven goals for Manchester United, he has marginally underperformed his xG.

One player linked with a move to Manchester United is Stuttgarts Sehrou Guirassy. Within the memories of French football followers, Guirassy is a relatively unprolific journeyman, who bounced around Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 sides such as Stade Lavallois, Amiens SC, Lille OSC, and Stade Rennais, notching up 31 goals in 109 games in France’s top-flight. 

However, he is certainly viewed in a different light in Germany, where he has flourished at Stuttgart, scoring 25 goals in just 26 Bundesliga appearances this season. The Guinean international has the third-best goals-per-90 ratio in Europe’s top five divisions, behind only Harry Kane and the departing Mbappé. He also has the third-highest xG-per-90 in Europe’s top five, showing that he is frequently getting in the right positions to score. 

Openda a like-for-like Mbappé replacement? 

With Stuttgart’s possession-based style not wholly dissimilar to the philosophy that Luis Enrique has instilled at the Parc des Princes, there is the potential for Guirassy’s form to translate and his transition would be rendered even easier by his knowledge of the league and the language. Guirassy may be available for under €20m, according to reports, making him a cheap option that would allow PSG to attribute significant funds to addressing other issues on the pitch. The club are reportedly in the market for a world-class midfielder and a world-class centre-back – neither would come cheap.

If PSG are looking at players that have passed through Ligue 1, they arguably should look no further than RB Leipzig’s Loïs Openda. The former RC Lens striker has excelled in his first season in the Bundesliga, just as he did with Les Sang et Or last season, leading Franck Haise’s side to a second-place finish in Ligue 1. 

In his one and only season in France’s top flight, he netted 21 goals; he has already bettered that tally in the Bundesliga, scoring 24 goals in 32 games. As he showcased at Lens, he has the variety in his game to play centrally, out wide, hold up play, run in behind and also be the poacher that pops up in the right places in the right moments. More than any other profile, Openda represents the closest PSG can get to replicating Mbappé’s impact, whilst, just as is the case with Guirassy, his knowledge of the league and the language make him a low-risk option. 

It is no exaggeration to state that replacing Mbappé is impossible; there is simply no equivalent in world football. Luis Campos and the rest of PSG’s hierarchy must decide which facets of Mbappe’s game are most crucial to Les Parisiens’ current success and must therefore be replaced. How that issue is interpreted dictates which kind of profile will be prioritised – the market is ripe with options. 

GFFN | Luke Entwistle

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